‘Spiral: From the Book of Saw’: Laughs meet mutilations (4K Ultra HD movie review)
WASHINGTON — Famed “Saw” sequel director Darren Lynn Bousman took on the enormous task of trying to continue the beloved franchise this year for an astounding ninth movie in the series offering a mystery thriller — starring Chris Rock in a dramatic role — mixed with some familiar human mutilations. The “official” results? Critics were not impressed. But its UHD debut now allows home theater fans to decide if “Spiral: From the Book of Saw“ (Lionsgate Home Entertainment, Rated R, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 93 minutes, $39.99) lives up to its macabre origins.
“Spiral: From the Book of Saw”: The Plot
The “Spiral” story begins with a grizzled police detective, Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks (Chris Rock). He must work with rookie partner Detective William Schenkto (Max Minghella) to solve a series of grisly murders of police officers. Each murder is reminiscent of the serial killer “Jigsaw,” already very familiar to fans of the “Saw” franchise.
While continuing the investigation triggered by the horrible death of a former partner, Zeke must also deal with his overbearing, retired homicide detective father, Marcus (Samuel L. Jackson). Making things worse, Marcus happens to be Zeke’s landlord. Worse still, Dad has long-standing issues with fellow officers that arose after he turned into a dirty cop.
Life issues aside, Zeke’s problems are compounded in his ongoing cop-killer investigation when the killer starts leaving boxes of body parts as clues. Zeke soon gets caught up in this twisted game. As usual, the diabolical traps set by the killer leave piles of bloody human carnage. Fingers being graphically ripped from hands prove especially disgusting.
A surprising dramatic turn by Chris Rock
But unfortunately for long-time “Saw” fans, the traps in this film generally prove uninspired. As a result, the film’s plotline brings nothing new to the series. Except for the genuine surprise of watching a finely matured comedian transform himself into an impressive dramatic actor. Yes, Chris Rock carries this mediocre movie, largely thanks to his edgy humor. He unleashes it like a sharp knife perfectly twinned with his Serpico-type cop character who’s overloaded with bitterness and hate for his world.
“Saw” fans will not be impressed with the killer and his absurd message voice, which sounds like “Groundhog Day’s” Ned Ryerson). Other negatives include the lack of an appearance by the original Jigsaw and the film’s abrupt, jaw-dropping, unsatisfying ending.
However, the 4K transfer delivers as crisp and colorful a presentation as one can expect considering the digital camera source material capturing up to 6K of visual information. On the other hand, that’s not necessarily such a good thing. Especially for those who become squeamish during this film’s bloody and excessively gory kills.
Viewers who love this kind of film will really appreciate the unnecessary overload of film deconstruction included on this 4K disc edition of “Spiral: From the Book of Saw.” This material starts with two optional commentary tracks.
First, a fiery Lynn Bousman (speaking with a bit of a game show announcer voice) teams with co-screenwriter Josh Stolberg and the soundtrack composer for all the “Saw” movies, Charlie Clouser. The trio smartly delivers a vivid, nonstop appreciation of the cast, crew, and their efforts. It’s the best of the two tracks. It not only includes a unique perspective from the film’s musical director. But additionally, the trio works together, asking each other questions that trigger more memories as they delve more deeply into the film.
Next, producers Oren Koules and Mark Burg offer a less talkative but deeper production commentary as well as a perspective of the “Saw” franchise. They let us in on key “Saw” minutiae. Like the fun factoid that this film’s subway set cost $300,000 (the most of any “Saw” movie). Or a clash with the director over a scene using a Steadicam. More esoteric: discussion the length of the human tongue, and employing an actor that refused to curse.
But wait! There’s more!
Let’s now add a five-chapter, hour-long documentary on the making of the movie. It starts by discussing the origins of the franchise, then dives into the new production covering casting, comedy, cinematography, editing, and music. Viewers also hear lots of comments from Mr. Rock as he tries to explain how a “48 Hours” meets “Seven” story came to be.
The layers of gush in this documentary get a bit much at times. But this docu-clip provides a far more in-depth, informative, and well-constructed overview than the movie deserves.
The director also offers his own detailed, nine-minute breakdown of the traps. Once again, this feature does a fantastic job of explaining some movie magic that helps considerably even in a not-so-good movie like this one.
As an extra added bonus, viewers even get a 6-minute look at the marketing of the “Saw” franchise, which often includes discussions of the franchise’s iconic PR posters. In the end, I found myself wishing that “Spiral: From the Book of Saw” had been as good a movie as the cast and crew’s appreciation of it.
Suffice it to report, fans will want to own this package. But the extras far outshine the final movie.
• This story originally appeared in The Washington Times.